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Clarity and Core Ideas

Here’s an underlying principle which applies no matter what you’re writing.

If you’re having trouble making things clear, it’s probably because you have departed from the underlying core ideas upon which your fiction is based.

Many temptations await the inexperienced writer -trying to sound clever by swapping a normal character or archetype with something they’ve found in another book, for example, or slipping in an imaginative idea they’ve just had, even though it’s not really appropriate. Doing this can lose you readers and reduce your clarity.

All substitutes do not mean the same thing.

Each archetypal character has a subtle nuance of meaning making it distinct from others -random substitutions of characters that merely seem to look better creates oddities and confusions and shows up the real limits of your understanding as a writer. Choose exactly the right arıchetype for the meaning you want, even if you then individualise that character.

For example, Obi-wan Kenobi from the Star Wars films is exactly the same archetype as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings or Merlin from the tales of King Arthur or Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books, yet each of these characters also possess individual traits which mark them out as unique. Similarity and difference, difference and similarity -what’s important is the core ideas upon which these similarities and differences rest.

If it helps, make a diagram showing the main idea of your story in model form. Below that, you should list supporting ideas, and below that, the details that you plan on using. Think of it as a builder’s blueprint. Most of your ‘original’ ideas will slot into place and be expanded and developed in ways which you never imagined by doing this.

The phenomenon known as ‘writers’ block’ stems partly from this. Sometimes writers just apparently dry up and have no more to write. What’s happened is that they have drifted away from the powerful nuclear reactors of their own core ideas.

If you’ve run dry, stop writing for a while, go and experience something -do something different, go and absorb what life has to o]ffer for a short period- then come back and take another look at your work. As a friend of mine once said (in a completely different context) ‘Make sure that you visit your well-springs as often as you can’. Getting back in touch with things that mean something to you, you will see possibilities for your fiction which were hidden from you before, and will be amazed at how much material you suddenly have on hand.

Some writers’ block actually stems from a hidden or submerged fear of or anxiety about your audience or readership. It might help to remember this: your audience, whether made up readers or potential publishers, does not want to tear you apart; it is made up of people who are seeking exactly the same kind of thing you are seeking.

What’s more, as you’ll learn from books like How Stories Really Work, these human beings are not just seeking some vague thing, but are, consciously or otherwise, hunting out very precise structures and recurring patterns.

There is much more to these patterns than we have time to explore here, but let’s start with two key concepts that might seem obvious but which are the foundation of whole bodies of fiction:

Words have power -combined with other words, that power is either diluted or enhanced.

Your ideas can either support each other and draw in the reader's attention, or be misaligned and let a reader’s attention drift.

Learn how to develop your core ideas, learn how to put them together in a workable way to attract readers, and you have the fundamentals of writing fiction right there.

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